Vintage Car Photography Tips

Cars that were manufactured before the end of World War II (1945) are classified as vintage cars, while those manufactured between 1945 and 1975 are categorized as classic cars.

vintage car photography

Photo captured by Joe Lohr

Before you venture out to photograph cars, either vintage or classic, it’s a good idea to know the basics of car body structure.

From the exterior, a typical car can be identified by its unique features, like body contour, bonnet / hood, bumper, grill, boot / trunk, unique logo or insignia, etc.

All modern cars are categorized by their basic types, like sedan, hatchback, coupe, station wagon, convertible, luxury, and sports cars. For vintage and classic cars, this may not be the case! You might be surprised to know that there are many vintage cars that have engines in their back (boot) and trunk in the front (bonnet).

Let’s now get to the actual art of photographing these beauties.

One of the challenges in photographing vintage and classic cars is locating them! The best opportunity arises when there is a rally or exhibition organized in your locality or city. Remember always, that there will other photographers there to photograph the beauties. Always be courteous to the other photographers; they have as much right to click as you do.

Although any digital camera will suffice, for best results take your DSLR camera. The selection of lens depends on various factors like location, lighting, etc.

The best would be get the opportunity to shoot during the golden hours, i.e., couple of hours after sunrise and couple of hours before sunset.

On some occasions, when there is a rally being organized for vintage and classic cars, the cars assemble at the start point in an open space where they’re parked prior to the flag off. Generally, there is no race but only a rally from one location to another. It’s indeed a feat to get these ancient cars up and running with mounting costs to maintain them on regular basis.

Select a car of your choice and then position yourself at an angle that lets you capture the entire length of the car. Next, shift your position so that the car is facing diagonally and then take a couple of photographs. There are two main angles from which the car can be photographed. First, the classic standing position and, second, from the height of the bonnet, which in most of the situations will be about your waist height. A DSLR camera with tilting LCD will be an advantage.

Feel free to explore other angles like low angle and maybe a higher vantage point, if you get such an opportunity.

car photo tips

“Bel Air Fin” captured by Terry Shuck

Always keep safety in mind. There may be other cars that are being driven around the rally place and other people moving about.

Pay special attention to the detailed artwork of the logo / insignia and other metallic carvings on the body of the vintage cars. These can be best photographed with a prime lens or even better with a macro lens, depending on the light and time available to shoot.

Once you’ve covered the exteriors, focus on the interiors, like the dashboard, steering wheel, and back seats. In most vintage cars, the interior upholstery is made up of genuine leather and a very finely articulated dashboard of teak wood or redwood with lacquer finishing. Always ask permission before taking photographs of the inside, as you may need to open the car doors or seat yourself inside. Avoid using the in-built flash or dedicated flash, as some of the interior components will be shiny stainless steel or even gold-plated art work.

About the Author:
Pashminu Mansukhani is part of an Industrial Photographer service company.

For further training check out this helpful video tutorial on the topic:

A good photo session of each vintage and classic car will take you at least 10-15 minutes, so be well prepared and have a pleasant bearing towards the organizers and other photographers.

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  1. Privat Bruger says:

    Nothing here at all that is specific to cars or vintage cars.

  2. Rick DeNatale says:

    Another tip. I’ve usually found the need for a polarizing filter when taking shots at weekend car shows. You can then take some artistic control over glinting metal and reflecting glass.

    I guess one thing is a bit different in the U.K. At similar events in the (Southeastern) U.S. almost all of the cars will be displayed with open hoods and often trunks (or bonnets and boots). While this allows for detail shots of engines and spare tires, it usually spoils shots of the whole car, unless the owner is nearby and you can convince him or her to close up for your pictures.

  3. Jurien Minke says:

    I am running a blog about automotive photography and really would like to publish this article on my blog as well. Very nice article with great tips.

    Juriƫn Minke

  4. Alan Linn says:

    One more thing to watch for are reflections, their everywhere in the chrome, paint jobs, and glass. First make sure your own reflection is not there, then sometimes you have to wait until that person with the bright clothing moves. Also watch your exposures on black or dark colored cars, your camera will adjust for the darkness and overexpose the backgrounds.

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